I am not sure what to call the Tron these days. When I say “the Tron” I mean the church formerly known as “St George’s-Tron Parish Church of Scotland”. Given that the church as a body seceded from the Church of Scotland back in June, and the CoS maintains that it still has a ministry there, I am not sure how one should currently refer to the church. For me, it will always be known as “the Tron”.
Susan and I worshipped there back in the 1980s when we were undergraduates and then for a further six years before moving to England in 1989. Those were the days of Eric Alexander, Sinclair Ferguson and David Ellis, a powerful team of Bible expositors who fed a packed building on Sunday mornings and evenings in the centre of the city of Glasgow. That period of the ministry of the word has had a powerful influence on our lives.
So, it was a great pleasure to worship there last Sunday. It is at least a decade since we were last able to attend (when Sinclair Ferguson was the minister – preaching on James 4 if I remember correctly). The occasion this time was that our daughter has been attending and decided to make the Tron her spiritual home. We had to be there, even though the service would be on Sunday evening and we would then have a five-and-a-half hour journey home afterwards.
Our daughter was one of 52 (yes, fifty-two!) who were either being baptised (four of them), professing faith for the first time (i.e. already baptised – is is a paedobaptist church!) or transferring from another church.
It was a powerful occasion for several reasons. Firstly, because the church was full. Latecomers found it hard to find a seat. Secondly, the singing was powerful, exuberant, yet controlled. Thirdly, the sermon was preached by Dr Richard Pratt of RTS (Orlando). It was a powerful sermon – “Whom do you trust?” – looking at Abraham. (Get it here – I recommend it.) Fourthly, there were four adult baptisms, which I always find moving. Fifthly, the new intake, like the church, is international. The gospel is for all nations! Sixthly, the group included converted muslims who have come to Christ. Seventhly, seeing our daughter profess faith was wonderful! Eighthly, Susan and I met so many friends we knew from the days when we were there over two decades ago. It was like we had never left. The bonds of unity and love were palpable. Strangely, those whom we considered then to be ‘old’, those faithful ‘parent’ figures who looked after us students, no longer seemed as old, though obviously 23 years had passed! How time, experience and maturity change our perceptions. Ninthly, the controversy surrounding the decision of the congregation to leave the CofS was clearly having no impact whatsoever on the ongoing ministry of the gospel in the city centre.
It is this final point that I wanted to linger on for a bit longer. The controversy over human sexuality, and the subsequent separation between the Tron and the CofS has its ins and outs, to which I am not party. However, I believe it to be true that none of the Glasgow Presbytery representatives who have been negotiating with the session of the Tron have actually been to a worship service there to see the ministry for themselves. If they had, then they would find a powerful Christ-centred ministry, filled with warmth and love. There is a buzz about the place as they seek to reach the homeless, asylum-seekers, students and people from all over the city. It has training programme for the preaching ministry that rivals in scale that of the whole of the rest of the CofS put together. The Tron is a model of city-centre ministry.
It is staggering, however, that the Glasgow Presbytery hopes to see a new evangelical ministry arise centred on the repossessed Buchanan Street building. But there is currently no congregation (they have all left the CofS) and there is only an interim moderator and a handful of assessor elders which constitutes “St George’s-Tron Parish Church”. As I understand it, the Glasgow Presbytery has to lose 30 paid staff this year in order to balance its books, and yet it intends to have a 3 to 5 year transitional period where somehow a congregation will arise from what is left. What evangelical minister will lead such a ministry? How can it replicate the ministry without significant injection of funds? How can it raise a congregation when the parish is largely commercial property and the residential population is transient? Who, who does not already attend the seceding congregation, will be willing to travel into the city centre from the outskirts to an essentially new work for a period of 3-5 years? It beggars belief. I expect this to become an unfolding tragedy for the CofS, a slow-motion train wreck that will eventually grind to a halt.
Meanwhile, the Tron will go on. Like all vibrant, gospel-centred ministries, it is looking ahead to how it can continue and expand its work for the city of Glasgow and its people.
Since the 1960s the motto of the city has been, “Let Glasgow Flourish.” Yet that is not the whole text inscribed on the bell in Tron Tower in Argyle Street from 1663. That reads, “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Thy word and the praising of Thy name.” I saw this flourishing in microcosm during worship at the Tron last Sunday. May it continue: in the Tron and all churches that seek to be faithful to the word of God.